Three stories about coffee

No more pods

The whole pod coffee revolution seemed to happen overnight while I was happily unaware of them in my tiny island refuge, drinking tea and eating Tunnocks cakes. One day I visited continental Europe, and everyone was raving about the new coffee machine they had bought.

Someone I knew during my university years lived in a newly built duplex and had a little espresso machine with which they made us a couple of foamy cappuccinos to help us go through the exams (or was it to impress us?!). It was incredibly middle class, an utopia next door, or next block, to be more precise.

So there I was years later, imagining this person had just acquired a similar little espresso machine and was perhaps going to tell me about their upcoming duplex move, only to be quickly disappointed when they showed me a Nespresso machine taking over half of their kitchen counter, attached to the one and only power socket and surrounded by metal racks of multicoloured capsules.

“Oh”, I said, trying to conceal my enthusiasm.

Obviously because this was the first time I saw one of these machines, I was totally unaware of how they worked, what the pods were and what happened to the pods once you were done with them. I was looking at the whole thing and wondering where were the levers? Where was the temperature indicator? The pressure dial? And what were those coloured thingies on the rack?

This all just lasted for fractions of a second, because obviously this person was really into the Nespresso machine. They made a demonstration: see, you put the pod here, then clickety clack, put a cup underneath, oh, wait until it’s hot, OK, now… TADA! Coffee!

I tasted it. It was… okay. A step above Nescafe, but certainly not the best coffee I’ve ever drank.

I mean, if your baseline is “instant coffee”, Nespresso is an improvement.

Personally, I had already converted to flat whites, and images of lining up for a Monmouth coffee came to my mind each time I approached Seven Dials in London, so the Nespresso spell didn’t quite have much effect on me.

Later on I learned how much waste the pods generate, and specially, realised how much space the whole implement takes. I was also in between mesmerised and terrified by the queues in the Nespresso shop in one of Barcelona’s big shopping avenues, and how proudly people emerged from them with a huge bag that held a tiny box with pods. And what about maintaining the machines? There is the water tank you need to fill, the water refuse thing you need to empty, the empty pods you need to dispose of… So. much. waste.

I kept loyal to my cafetière and hand grinder. I can put them away when I’m done with them, they can be cleaned thoroughly, and they don’t monopolise my kitchen sockets and counter.

The city of Hamburg has banned coffee pods from state-run buildings to reduce waste. Is this a first step towards the end of coffee pods? Will people change their minds, and what will happen to all those racks and machines? Will artists repurpose them into something nicer, like those artists that made rings out of used pods? We’ll see…

Coffee is as much about the coffee as it is about the process

I think the other aspect I dislike about instant coffee is that it removes the fun preparation side (measuring, grinding, waiting for the brew) and leaves you only with the boring side (cleaning the residue) and an average coffee. I don’t think you save that much time overall, and the amount of pleasure is certainly not comparable. It’s like junk food, but for coffee. Junk coffee. Fast junk coffee.

Last year we were at a conference in Paris, and there was this huge queue during the break to get access to a coffee machine. I said “this is horrible, we cannot accept this, we’re in Paris!” So we left the conference building, walked across the square, and had coffee at one of those stereotypical Parisian outdoors but not really outdoors area, because it was January and we were inside a sort of big plastic hut to protect customers from the sharp continental breeze. The waiter was yelling things to someone else, in French of course, we looked at passers by, and froze every time someone dared unseal the door to get into the cafe. But we were drinking strong coffee in proper ceramic glasses, sitting in proper tables, so it was an acceptable sacrifice.

Meanwhile, people in the conference were in a basement, queueing for bad coffee in plastic cups.


I think I know you

Last Saturday I went into a new-ish coffee shop. I might have been there three or four times by now, since it’s slightly out of my normal whereabouts, and I have never been there at the same time on each visit, so I am not really familiar with the staff yet.

I got in, had some friendly chit chat with the person at the till, placed my order and moved to the other side. I heard “Flat white?” from behind the espresso machine, and thought, “hum, this voice sounds familiar”. I moved aside, so as to better identify the source of the question and…

“Hey, I think I know you? Didn’t you use to work at XYZ?”

“Oh! Yes! Yes, I did! How do you know me?”

“Because I used to go to XYZ too!”

“Ohhh! I spent some time in Europe, and now I’m back. What happened to XYZ? Do you still go there?”

“Very nice! XYZ seem to have changed owners, and all the staff are gone and replaced with other people… they’re OK but they’re boring. Plus they are more expensive now, and changed the fidelity card, so you now need 10 coffees instead of 6… And the worst of all…”


“They removed the outside bench!”

“Oh no! Although it makes sense because the council complained so much about it, they were always giving us trouble”

“But drinking the coffee outside was the best part… So now I go to ABC which does have an outside bench! Anyway, it was nice to see you again!”

I left the shop in between amused and puzzled. Are there so few baristas that at some point I will know who they all are? Or was that just a coincidence?

Notes on the Web Audio Conference

I’m writing this from Paris after two days of web audio discussions on the Web Audio Conference: I think my brain hasn’t processed everything yet and I couldn’t even attend all the talks and events as I’ve got to prepare for FOSDEM and work on my normal duties too.

So I’ll be somewhat vague and generic to start with, and possibly keep editing the post to add links to things.

If you follow me on twitter you might have seen a lot of tweets during the conference. Lots of libraries and tools were presented. It was great that, as Jan Monschke mentioned, they all were open source and encouraged contributions. It is also, I believe, a symptom that there is SO MUCH WORK to do on this field that people feel underpowered and unable to build all that we need in order to get as creative/expressive as we’d like, or at least, as we can be in other platforms.

So that was cool. However, I can learn about tools and libraries from the comfort of my home and chair. What is really cool is being able to take part in “the hallway track” discussions and do some “networking”, but this is something the conference didn’t really facilitate. The schedule was really TIGHT, and didn’t leave time to process / discuss the new ideas with the people around you, let alone think about them yourself. It all felt really crammed together.

Granted, there was some time for questions after each talk, but I don’t think that’s the right moment or place.

Correction/update: there is an afternoon “hacks” session at Mozilla today which can be used for networking/discussion.

There were a few more aspects that were Not Cool At All, such as the whole line up of speakers being mostly white and male. I think I could count with one hand the number of women on the room (me included) and I’d still have free fingers. In other contexts this would have been outrageous. I tried to encourage diverse groups to send their proposals, and it didn’t work, but I don’t want to make myself feel exclusively responsible for this.

Finally, some members of the conference staff were overly zealous and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable: repeated bag searches on the way in, by the same security officer. Being addressed/yelled at in French, and policed all the time even when in our office. I was yelled at when trying to get some water from the table before lunch because it wasn’t the right time yet (but there wasn’t any other water to drink!). Some of my colleagues were told not to take drinks from the office kitchen’s fridge even if they are Mozilla employees (!!). Some people need to chill down. C h i l l d o w n.

The Web Audio conference is a wonderful and so very much needed forum. At times it even felt like a magic pioneering place, a one of a kind meeting that we were fortunate and privileged to be part of. I want/expect it to get better and better in future editions 🙂

Tools for the 21st century musician—super abridged dotJS edition

I attended dotJS yesterday where I gave a very short version of past past week’s talk at Full Frontal (18 minutes versus 40).

The conference happened in a theatre and we were asked not to use bright background so I changed my slides to be darker and classier.

It didn’t really go as smoothly as I expected (a kernel panic a bit before the start of the talk, and I got nervous and distracted so I got more nervous and…), but I guess I can’t always WIN! It was fun to speak in French if only one line, though: Je suis très contente d’être parmi vous!–thanks to Thomas for the assistance in coming up with the perfect presentation line, and Guillaume and Sasha for listening to me repeat it until it resembled passable French!

While the video is edited and released, here’s a sample in the form of slides, online and their source code in GitHub.

It was fun to use CSS filters to invert the images so they would not be a big white block on top of a dark background. Yay CSS filters!

.filter-invert {
    filter: invert(100%) brightness(2);

Also, using them in transitions between slides. I discovered that I could blur between slides. Cinematic effects! (sorta, as I cannot get vertical/horizontal blur). But:

.bespoke-active.emphatic-text {
  filter: none;
.bespoke-inactive.emphatic-text {
  filter: blur(10px);

I use my custom plugin presentation-fullscreen for getting real fullscreen in my slides. It’s on npm:

npm install presentation-fullscreen --save

then just


will add a new option to the contextual menu for making the whole body go fullscreen.

I shall write about this tip and how I use bespoke.js in general, and a couple thoughts and ideas I had during the conference soon. Topics including (so I don’t forget): why a mandatory lack of anonymity is not the solution to doxxing, and the ideal talk length.

This week… and beyond

  • Monday: shyly open my inbox after a week of holidays, and probably duck to avoid the rolling ball of stale mail coming my way.
  • Wednesday: maybe meet Karolina who’s in London for a conference!
  • Thursday: my talk is closing a conference O_O — when the organiser mentioned “closing” the day I thought he meant closing the first day, not the second. NO PRESSURE. Although the conf is held at Shoreditch Village Hall, which is a venue where I feel like at home, so I’ll probably be OK. There’s a meatspace meatup afterwards, and I’m glad it’s around Shoreditch too or I’ll be dropping on that.
  • Friday: MozFest facilitators meeting, and also the Science Fair during the evening (if it is still called Science Fair)
  • Saturday and Sunday: MozFest, MozFest, MozFest! Paul Rouget asked me to show WebIDE there, and then Bobby (aka SecretRobotron and your best friend) came up with this idea of a MEGABOOTH where people can go and learn something about app-making in sessions of 5-20 minutes. Of course I can’t be all week-end there or I’ll basically die of social extenuation, so I asked some friends and together we’ll be helping spread the word about Firefox OS development in its various facets: Gaia/Gonk/the operating system itself, Gaia apps, DevTools and WebIDE. Come to the MEGABOOTH and hang with Nicola, Wilson, Francisco, Potch and me! (linking to myself and wondering if the Internet will break with so much recursion, teehee)

Continue reading “This week… and beyond”

WAC – the Web Audio Conference

There is going to be a Web Audio Conference for the first time and it’s going to happen in Paris, next January 2015.

This is co-organised by IRCAM and Mozilla, and I’m excited to be involved as part of the technical committee.

Call for papers is open until October the 10th. Update: they have added some guidelines to help you submit a paper if you’ve never submitted a paper.